There is a joke that says the Internet is good for three things: Porn, porn and porn. A legislator from Maryland has set out on a quest to change this, but the plan is ultimately flawed, as past methods have proven ineffective. More importantly, pornography itself is not the problem.
Michael Smigiel Sr., the Maryland delegate who came up with the plan, proposed on TV station WBAL in Maryland that he envisions mandatory regulations for Web sites featuring “pornographic” content that would entail adding “.sex” to their domain address. Such additions to addresses have been in use since the inception of the Web and, for example, denote a site as government operated by adding “.gov” and as a non-profit organization by adding “.org.”
Smigiel said, “As a parent, I have this wonderful research tool available that has so many land mines that are out there that I don’t want to have to explain to my children.”
Therein lies the problem: Pornography, as a concept, is not “evil.” As long as the individuals depicted gave their consent and are of legal age, the act of displaying pornographic content does no harm. Only when the depictions or videos are not properly put into context to the viewer do they become problematic. Pornography and salacious images are not the sacred domain of the Internet, however, and as with television, parents must be ultimately responsible for the viewing — or surfing — habits of their children.
In recent years this became obvious when the Web address www.whitehouse.com linked to a site with graphic sexual content rather than governmental Web site operated from www.whitehouse.gov. The porn site is now closed, but before closing, it spawned outrage from parents, as children doing research for school projects often hit the pornographic site by mistake.
It is more than doubtful that all operators of site featuring pornographic content can be persuaded to abide to the proposed rules to add the “.sex” ending in order to block them, even if fines are imposed. They could, for example choose to move their sites to web servers (and, hence, domains) in locales outside the legislative influence of the United States.
The definition of what “pornography” is also varies greatly. In a ruling on obscenity in 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced … but I know it when I see it.” As the attempted banning of The Daily Show’s book America, The Book recently showed, what may be simply funny to some (the book showed a fake image of the Supreme Court without clothing) may be deemed “pornographic” by others. Any attempt to legislate what amounts to a matter of taste could therefore hardly be effective or even amount to censorship.